Henry Duncan: In your intro you mention your name “in another lifetime”, you chose the name Bomani Armah. Why?
Bomani Armah: I had a serious Malcolm X moment in college, combined with the fact that I didn’t like my original last name (Hancock). No disrespect to my family, but between the juvenile teasing (i.e. hand-on-my-cock) and my growing black nationalist leanings that made me resent my name being the most prominent on the Declaration of Independence, I was ready for a change. I chose Bomani because I like both definitions I found for it. Either “Warrior” or “Poet”. I like combining the two. My name being said is a constant reminder of what I believe my purpose is. I made my birth name, Darel, my middle name. I didn’t want to completely divorce myself from what my parents named me. Besides, you know how black people are with spelling names. I liked how original my particular spelling was. Armah comes from a book that rocked my reality “2000 Seasons” by Ayi Kwei Armah. He is a Ghanaian writer and his name is a traditional Akan name. In retrospect I didn’t really factor in everything I should have when chosing the last name. Tribal names have histories to them I’m not fully aware of. But I loved the way it sounded, and I’ve had it for more than 10 years now.
HD: In your essay We Don't Need Another Hero you write: “None of the “leaders”, or the news segments they promote about the state of black people, ever address the ideas of real change and organizing”. In your opinion what would be an effective way to address the ideas of real change?
BA: Real change deals with the core of black people, not just window dressing. We need to discuss who God is and why. We need to debate whether or not we really want to be capitalists. I’m not even saying I have the answer, but we spend too much time discussing and fighting the smoke, instead of the fire.
HD: Will your essays become a part of a larger work?
BA: I’m already mapping out Circumlocution Vol III, and I plan on having 12 essays in it, one for each month of the year in 2012. Editorials, essays and blogs are weapons in my arsenal I hope to use more. I do have complete book ideas, and I’m assuming one of these essays will blossom into one as well.
BA: That was one of the most heart breaking stories I had ever heard, and when it happened I either just had or was about to have my children. I can’t think of anything worse as a man, than to die thinking you had failed your family. And at such a simple task like going home for the holidays. That story haunted me. His mental anguish had to be as bad, if not worst, than the pain of freezing to death. I’m sure it’s happened millions of times over the course of history, but at that moment his story was very real to me.
HD: One of the sections of your chapbook is for songs. How do balance making songs while maintaining the fact that you're not a rapper?
BA: The “not a rapper” moniker has a lot of meanings. It came first from me starting as a poet and spoken word artist, then transitioning into doing more rhymes over beats. I honestly didn’t want to insult people who had been rhyming for years and, at the time, were better than me at it. Eventually, when I became more comfortable and put out records, I was still teaching creative classes throughout DC. On more than one occasion a student told me I wasn’t a “rapper” because I didn’t have money or nice clothes. I realized the word had taken on a whole different connotation than someone who rhymes over a beat, and I was quite okay with not being associated with that. I definitely consider myself an emcee, and I was a song writer before I considered myself a poet, so the prevalance of songs in my work aren’t a conflict at all to me. Also, the title was never meant to be a diss to people who call themselves rappers, I just wanted to distinguish myself. I’ve never gone out of my way to apologize if someone took it personally, but it was about what I am, not about what other people are. When trying to come up with a website name I realized that Bomaniarmah.com is not a name anyone is going to remember or spell correctly if they do. I had started most of my sets by saying “I’m not a rapper, I’m a poet with a hip-hop style”, so my ex-wife told me I should take the website www.notarapper.com. It was perfect.
HD: You say circumlocution is your new favorite word. Why?
BA: Circumlocution means to speak in a round about way. It has a rhythm to it that I love. It’s also seems to be some obvious combination of “circle” and “locomotion”, which makes the definition seem crystal clear, even if you don’t have a dictionary or speak Latin. I didn’t realize until after falling in love with the word that it is usually meant as an insult. That made me like it even more. I feel like my writing on an individual piece is very focused and directed on a particular topic, but the range of topics that I address are very vast. That is something my favorite poets and writers do. My least favorites, especially in the spoken word scene, tend to write pieces about life, or the revolution, or love, as a whole. They try to encapsulate everything in one piece. I try to avoid that. I’m comfortable with my audience having misconceptions about me if they only hear one song, or read one piece. Eventually they’ll learn about me, the person and the artist, as a whole. Even if not, that one little piece might be what they needed. It will come around full circle eventually.
HD: What do you want your legacy to be?
BA: I want to be remembered as honest, daring and provocative. I want people to use my words at crucial moments to make remarkable points. I want someone to mention to my great-grandchildren that they are a fan of mine. I’m not under the illusion that artists are the true revolutionaries in the story of the world, but we are the narrators and we write the score. I take that job seriously.